Bomb-Threat Caller in December Maricopa County Court Evacuation had Made Similar Threat to Public Defender's Office Two Days Earlier
Investigators determined the December 2 bomb threat was made from this phone on Third Avenue, which is hidden from the sight of a surveillance camera.
Image: Ray Stern
The person who called in a bomb threat that cleared out the Maricopa County Superior Court building on December 2, one day after a detention officer was ordered to jail by a judge, made a similar threat to the Public Defender's Office two days before.
Some folks may never believe the threat wasn't phoned in by someone associated with the Sheriff Joe Arpaio's office. Arpaio made it clear he was unhappy with Judge Gary Donahoe's decision to jail Officer Adam Stoddard for refusing to apologize for rifling through a defense attorney's file in court. On the same day, more detention officers called in sick than usual, possibly in protest of the punishment ordered by Donahoe.
The revelation of an earlier telephone threat weakens the "what-a-coincidence!" factor.
But it also raises a question as to why the first threat didn't spur a similarly massive evacuation.
The 911 call received by Phoenix police on December 2 came at 9:44 a.m. from a pay phone just outside the West Court entrance at 111 South Third Avenue, a spot just out of sight of a nearby surveillance camera, according to a Sheriff's Office incident report.
A review of the camera's video recording shows numerous people walking around near the phone, "and none of them appear to be acting in a suspicious manner," Deputy Childs wrote in his report.
The caller's threats and grievances were vague -- for instance, he never once referred to a bomb. He says he's going to "set off something in the building of the courts" that day, but he's not sure which building. Hardly the sort of grave, specific plot Dennis Hopper's character reveals to the cops in the movie Speed, but still somewhat scary.
The man said he'd been calling the Public Defender's Office recently, and that cops should call the office to learn the nature of his complaints.
By 10:15 that morning, supervising deputies were meeting with court administrators, recommending the buildings be cleared. Presiding Judge Barbara Mundell agreed to the evacuation, court officials confirmed.
As the morning wore on, sheriff's deputies realized one of their own had taken a report on November 30 involving a "similar threat" made to the Public Defender's Office.
That afternoon, a deputy played the recording of the December 2 call to Michelle Medina, a records processor who had talked to the suspect two days before. Medina reportedly confirmed the voice on the new tape was the same man who had called her.
The case was turned over to the sheriff's threat squad, the report states.
We called the director of the Public Defender's Office, Jim Haas, a couple of times today to ask him how his office responded to the November 30 threat, but he didn't return the calls.
On January 8, another bomb threat caused the evacuation of the court's East Building. That threat occurred one day after news that Arpaio's office was the subject of an FBI investigation for alleged abuses of power, and -- like the December threat -- was followed by rumors that Arpaio supporters had something to do with it.
At the minimum, the two incidents show that such threats are sometimes handled very differently.
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